Sri Lanka News

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New York here we come!

Soldiers are dying in the north. People displaced by the fighting are huddled in refugee camps in many parts of the country. A substantial percentage of Sri Lanka’s population is struggling to make ends meet in the face of an ever rising cost of living. Higher electricity charges, fuel costs and consequently public transport fare hikes stare them in the face. Yet the carnival goes on at public expense with politicians and their cohorts giving themselves a ball without a thought that the money they lavish on their high living is extracted from all the people of this country through a plethora of taxes on any and everything we buy. We focus today on the latest example of this vulgar extravagance our leaders are forever indulging in – the president’s over 50-strong delegation to the forthcoming September meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.

It is an understatement to say that this is an intolerable disgrace. It is time that President Mahinda Rajapaksa sits up and takes notice of this waste of public funds expended in his name and presumably with his concurrence. We Sri Lankans often poke fun at ourselves with remarks like “clean suit, empty pocket’’ as our leaders indulge their champagne taste on the toddy income of the nation. We have a bloated cabinet with every prospect of new ministers being added to a mind-boggling list. These worthies with their luxurious limousines, security escorts, official bungalows, personal and official staffs and a plethora of other perks unmatched even in some of the richer more developed countries of the world do not come cheap. They get elected to office by sanctimoniously pledging to serve the people they represent and then proceed to lavishly ladle gravy on to their own plates. Each succeeding political establishment improves on the sorry record of its predecessor with no leader strong enough or righteous enough to cry halt.

Can President Mahinda Rajapakse do that? His administration, up to now, has not shown any sign of demanding that public expenditure is strictly controlled and at least fifty cents value obtained for every rupee spent out of the exchequer. It is too much to expect 100 cents value for every rupee spent although that must be the target. Most people will be satisfied if we can at least reach halfway house. We are told that the powers that be are now looking at bestowing pensions on Provincial Councillors on terms similar to those that MPs enjoy. Duty free cars for these worthies, previously granted but apparently no longer on offer, are also under consideration, The Island reported yesterday.

The public perception is that the Provincial Councils are of little or no value. They are a huge white elephant created by the J.R. Jayewardene administration as a response to the demand for devolution in the North and the East. On the basis that “you can’t give Jaffna what you won’t give Hambantota’’ as Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali pithily put it then, the Provincial Councils were created. But the greatest irony is that there are no such councils in the North and East where devolution is most needed while elsewhere the relatively new breed of Provincial Councillors are making hay. There was a short-lived Provincial Council for the “temporarily’’ merged Northern and Eastern Provinces under Chief Minister Varatharajah Perumal. But that ended with an attempt at an Unilateral Declaration of Independence and for the past several years those areas have been administered by a Governor.

As our front page reports says, the entourage to New York is almost double the extravagant delegations that President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took with them when they represented this country at the United Nations General Assembly. Matching those numbers is bad enough. But nearly doubling them? By all accounts the list that we carry on who’s going to New York, mind you at our expense, might still not be complete. There may be more catchers in the wings waiting to jump on to the bandwagon. Ex-President CBK perhaps had the questionable excuse that her last jaunt to New York was going to be her last hurrah and therefore she paid off some favours she owed by giving a joy ride to some blue eyed boys and girls. All politicians, whether here or abroad, acquire supporters who must be rewarded one way or another. But there must be a limit to the patronage granted at public expense. Time was when press exposes of shady dealings of politicians and others drew some kind of even limited response. Today most of these are ignored and allowed to go into the limbo of forgotten things. The potent instruments of parliamentary questions are today seldom used to keep those freely misusing public funds in line. It must be said to the credit of the JVP that they at least are doing the job which is in reality the UNPs in bringing some of these matters under the spotlight. A recent question on the cost of defector Bogollagama’s foreign jaunts was one such. A JVP MP asked that question. The opposition, and the UNP is supposed to be that, must understand that they are paid to do the job of ensuring probity within the ranks of the government. But their concerns are anything but that, with too many beady green eyes focused on the possibility of crossing sides and sharing the spoils.

CBK was stopped from building that palace at Battaramulla. After that, despite a cabinet decision to bestow on her that valuable site on which millions of rupees of public funds had already been splurged, the likelihood of an adverse verdict in a public interest suit saw the land being returned. Public opinion on the subject had little to do with the reversal of the original decision. It is high time that the public takes notice of that fact and ensure that those privileged to take office on the strength of their votes pay due regard to their opinion. We do not say that the President of our Republic be not permitted attendance of the UN General Assembly. He must certainly go. But his entourage must be kept within acceptable limits. Presidential visits abroad must not and cannot be allowed to be made the excuse for massive junkets this country can ill afford.

-The Sunday Island Editorial

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September 3, 2006 - Posted by | Media, Media Journalism, News, News and politics, Press Release, South Asia, World News

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